Congratulations to the Democrats!
We should be more self-centered

On democracy and nation-building

Now that the Democrats are tasting power, some of their ideas about Iraq are starting to be taken seriously.  Senator Joseph Biden is currently leading the charge by suggesting that Iraq should be broken up into three separate states, roughly along the lines of the three major ethnic groups.

This may be a good idea, but there is a larger point that eludes Americans on in this matter: this isn't for "us" to decide.  Americans know startlingly little about democracy, and absolutely nothing about nation-building.  Democrats, just as the Republicans have done, are trying to rule Iraq from the "ivory tower"...trying to guess what Iraqis want, and then convincing the rest of us that somehow they know the answer!  Of course the fundamental idea of democracy is to let the people decide.  When that happens, the outcome has the greatest possible chance of success.  When something is decided democratically, the people want it!  More importantly, feel they have a stake in it (a critical ingredient to a successful outcome).

This principle was understood very well by Vaclav Havel in 1991 and 1992.  He was a political outsider (a writer) who came to power in Czechoslovakia immediately after the fall of Communism.  His charter: oh simple; to build a nation.  Well this intellectual political outsider was just what the country needed...somebody who didn't know much about politics but was an idealist who believed in the people.  He believed in democracy.

Perhaps Vaclav Havel's defining moment has to do with the question of whether or not Slovakia should split with the Czech Republic.  Sentiment was growing at the time that Slovakia should be a separate nation with its own, independent government.  The Slovaks and Czechs speak a different (but similar) language, and generally have always identified with their respective nationalities above the official "Czechoslovak" status that was imposed on them for roughly 50 years. 

Havel decided that this was not his decision to make...but the Slovaks.  If he neglected them the opportunity to decide such a matter, they would always feel oppressed...that they were being illegitimately ruled from far-away Prague.  On the contrary, if he decided to arrange a split, then the Slovaks would have little stake in the process, and the success of their new country would be in jeopardy.  He decided that the only right thing to do is to put the matter to a vote.

In 1992, the Slovaks bravely voted to split with the Czech Republic.  The decision was respected by Prague, and on January 1st, 1993, the independent Slovak Republic was born in a completely peaceful transfer of power.  Now almost 14 years later, the results speak for themselves.  Today, both the Czech and Slovak Republics, as members of the EU, are healthy democracies with rapidly improving economies and a strong social infrastructure that in many ways exceeds that of the USA.

Maybe its time to bring Vaclav Havel to Washington.